MESICK — There are many iconic moments associated with the American flag.
There is, of course, the first time Besty Ross sewed the stars and stripes on the flag or when Neil Armstrong planted Old Glory on the moon during the first lunar landing. More recently, an iconic moment occurred when firefighters hoisted a flag above the rubble of the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City.
Another iconic and historic moment involving the American Flag has to be during World War II and the Battle of Iwo Jima. “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima‘ is an iconic photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal on Feb. 23, 1945, which depicts six United States Marines raising a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, during the Battle of Iwo Jima, in World War II.
The battle has been described as “A 36-day bloody slog‘ and Iwo Jima itself translates to mean sulfuric island.
The Battle of Iwo Jima was a military campaign between U.S. Marines and the Imperial Army of Japan beginning on Feb. 19, 1945. The ensuing Battle of Iwo Jima lasted for five weeks. In some of the bloodiest fighting of World War II, it’s believed that all but 200 or so of the 21,000 Japanese forces on the island were killed, as were almost 7,000 Marines, according to History.com.
Paul Johnson was one of the men who were in Japan during the battle. While he was not one of the Marines who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi, he was there. Johnson, however, recently died on May 16 at the age of 93. Today he is being laid to rest with full military rites under the auspices of the Cadillac Area Honor Guard.
Fitting that a man who was part of the battle that produced one of the most iconic pictures taken in American history is being laid to rest on Flag Day.
A PROUD SON AND FAMILY
Johnson’s son Larry said, like many World War II veterans, his dad didn’t talk much about his time in the service. But, from time to time, he would tell him and his brother and sister things about service as a Marine.
“He told me once he was the second wave to hit the beach (at Iwo Jima). He was still at the bottom when the flag went up,‘ Larry said. “He came off there without a scratch but he was buried once in a fox hole.‘
While he didn’t say much when he did it left a lasting impression. Larry said when his father did talk he would share with him and his brother some of the realities of war. These stories were graphic in nature.
For that reason, Larry said when he and his brother turned 18 and were thinking of joining the military his dad told him not to join the Marines as he did.
“The Marines are the first to go,‘ Larry recalled his father telling him.
Larry ended up joining the Army in 1968 and was in the reserves in Traverse City. His brother followed in 1970. Unlike his father, Larry said he was never sent overseas to Vietnam.
After the war his father returned to Frankfort, Ohio and started his family, Larry said. He was working on a farm in Ohio and a local barber told him he had property up in Northern Michigan near Interlochen. Larry said his father was an avid hunter and trapper so when he traveled up to Northern Michigan to check out the barber’s log cabin, a herd of deer crossed his path.
It was at that moment Larry said his father turned his car around, returned to Ohio and told his family they were moving to Northern Michigan. At the time, Larry said he was roughly 4 years old. The year was 1952.
“When he got up here he didn’t have a job and only had very little money,‘ Larry said.
He struggled to find a job and it was to the point where Larry said he went out one day and said if he couldn’t find a job he and the family would have to return to Ohio.
As luck would have it, Larry said his father returned home that day and had a job digging ditches for Peninsula Asphalt. With a job, Larry said the family never returned to Ohio except for holidays and to visit.
A BIG DISCOVERY
After his father passed, Larry said he and his siblings started going through his things.
What they found can only be described as historic. They found a scrapbook that Larry said he believes his father’s grandmother made depicting his time as a Marine. It includes news clips, transcripts from a radio interview he did, letters he wrote home and a letter signed by President Harry S. Truman thanking him for his service.
“I first saw the book a week ago. It was very interesting to read and to see what was going on over there. Until you look at it and read it, you don’t understand what they went through,‘ he said. “That book is 73 years old.‘
In looking at the book, Larry said his father had not changed a lot in looks. He could pick him out in every picture. He also said within the last year, his father shared some insight regarding how the outcome of World War II would be different if it happened today.
“If the news people or reporters told what went on in the war now like they didn’t do then, we would have lost World War II due to the people and the politics,‘ Larry said his father told him. “They didn’t know what was going on until (the soldiers) came home. When you are losing thousands of lives a day, they wouldn’t want to stay. He is right. Today politicians try to run the war instead of the generals.‘
As for the scrapbook, Larry said he, his brother or his sister will keep it and it will remain in the family. Obviously, the scrapbook holds a lot of sentimental value but it also represents the history of our nation from a bygone era.
“We will keep it around. It will never get destroyed or anything. It is history,‘ he said.